Category Archives: Energy Code

A Healthy Home

Healthy HomeBuilding a new home, gives the homebuyer an opportunity to build in all the things they want. The floor plan, bedroom arrangement, windows are all important.

Also right up there is a house that is healthy. Everywhere you look, someone is pitching, this is healthy for you.  We have lots of buzz words for healthy.  Organic, whole grain, anti-oxidant, reduced fat, low sugar, wellness, all-natural are but a few. How do you make a house into a healthy home?  It starts with design and a few simple objectives.   Ideally, a healthy home is:

  • Dry
  • Clean
  • Well Ventilated
  • Combustion by-product free
  • Pest Free
  • Chemical Care
  • Comfortable
  • Safe

read beforeIt seems fairly simple.  We want a roof over our head to keep the elements out.  Hot or cold, rain or snow, we don’t want them in our home.  The dry home starts with a well constructed roof.  That keeps the weather related water like rain or snow out. Then the walls, and the foundation.

Clean may be obvious, or not. Well Ventilated and Combustion by-product free, along with pest free, no toxic chemicals, comfortable and safe seem also to be obvious.  There is a saying about the Devil being in the details.  It is certainly that way in building a home. So a few details on these topics that make up a Healthy Home are important.

I will be posting a series based on the Healthy Home. We will take a look at each of the points listed above and what they mean to the home owner.

Part Ia   How Dry is Dry       Bulk Water from Precipitation

Part 1b  How Dry is Dry       Bulk Water From other Sources

Part 1c  How Dry is Dry       Water Vapor

Part II    The Home Starts Out Clean

Part 3    Well Ventilated

Part 4     Free of Combustion Byproducts

Part 5     Pest Free

Part 6     Chemical Care

Using One HVAC System for Two Areas

My first audit was triggered by the homeowner concerned that the upstairs was several degrees warmer than downstairs. Since we all have experienced Hot Air  goes up, it makes some sense.  In this case the difference was 15° F at 8:00 am, rising to 20° F by noon that August morning.  Yes, it was hot.

4 square craftsmanThere are a number of ways to help this out, for existing homes. Which one is best depends on the specific home, the existing setup and the homeowner.  For new homes, it usually falls to the HVAC guys to work out.

In a new 2 story home, it is common to see two HVAC units.  One in the basement for most of the home and one in the attic for the second floor.  Some builders, concerned with cost, or space considerations, will try a Zoned System.  You can also find Zoned Systems in single story homes, with the master suite on one zone and the rest of the home on another zone.

furnace bypass zoneTypically, the set up uses a bypass and several dampers to control the air.  The wisdom of this approach is that changing the air flow through the unit costs a lot of $$$$.

In the video below, John Proctor, goes through the measurements and calculations of using or not using a bypass and dampers to figure out exactly what is happening.  His conclusion:  The Bypass Damper set up costs 22% – 32% more.

This video is primarily written for HVAC contractors and others interested in the details and workings of air conditioning.  If all the numbers make your eyes glaze over, that is OK.  All you want is comfort, a Bypass dampened system may do that at a cost. It may have the cost and not do that.  So if you are considering a Zoned HVAC system,  tell your contractor —  ‘No Bypass Dampers’!  And refer them to this post.

Insulation In Your Walls

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

I’ve been working with a local builder on his insulation.  He decided to upgrade his standard package of insulation for the walls in his homes. Most homes in this area are built on site with 2×4 walls.  Insulation is almost always installed in the cavity between the studs. The insulation most commonly chosen is a Batt Type insulation.  I’ve seen some mineral wool batts installed during construction in Wichita, most batts are Fiberglass.  They come in white, pink, yellow and a brown.  Color is from the manufacturer, think advertising.

I’ve been working with a local builder on his insulation.  He decided to upgrade his standard package of insulation for the walls in his homes. Most homes in this area are built on site with 2×4 walls.  Insulation is almost always installed in the cavity between the studs. The insulation most commonly chosen is a Batt Type insulation.  I’ve seen some mineral wool batts installed during construction in Wichita, most batts are Fiberglass.  They come in white, pink, yellow and a brown.  Color is from the manufacturer, think advertising.

The concern with a batt type insulation is how it is put in the home. Workmanship is always an issue.  Is it installed to hold the price down?  Is it installed to maximize the Energy Efficiency. There is no code in the Wichita area requiring insulation.  Until two years ago, the recommended code for our climate was R-13 for walls located above the ground. In 2012, the recommendation changed, primarily due to increasing energy costs. The change was increased to R-20. While this a large change of approach for builders that have not had to comply with a code, it is not unreasonable given the cost increases of energy, since the R-13 was set back in 1992. Batts

Here is a typical FG batt wall, from 2013.  Notice the compressed and poorly cut areas on the bottom of the right side. Not the gap along the right edge from the top to almost the bottom. Insulation is missing in places. This home had 74 square feet of missing insulation, because batts are hard to install with maximum energy efficiency in mind. How many places on this wall is the insulation not going to touch the drywall.

Batt sideThis is a shot of a wall built in 1965 with batt insulation.  Not much different from today. The installers stapled the batt to the side of the framing. You can see the gap along the side of the 2×4.  This space allows air to move inside the wall and prevents the insulation from working as intended. This can be a lack of training, supervision, knowledge or in some cases trades working against each other. Some drywall installers will not guarantee their work if the batts are face stapled.

This raises the question the builder was asking.  How do I install insulation to maximize the energy efficiency and maintain the drywall guarantee and not drastically change the costs.

The answer was a Blown In System.  Using a loose fill fibrous insulation the contractor can blow the fibers into a netting material stapled to the studs.  There are contractors that do this regularly with mineral wool, cellulose and fiberglass, the three main forms of fibrous insulation. The insulation contractor uses a Blown-In-Blanket© System.  These certified installers receive training and certification based on Professional Standards published by the High Performance Insulation Pros.  Here is their website.  BIBS Sink

This picture shows Blown-In-Blanket© System on a kitchen wall.  I chose the kitchen wall because all of the electrical and plumbing running through it  Very hard to properly install batts. Very easy to install BIBS and maximize the energy efficiency.  BIBS blown in at 1 pound per cubic foot in a 2×4 wall provides R-13 insulation. At a density of 1.8 pounds per cubic foot it provides R-15 in a 2×4 wall. These ratings have been verified using testing standards from ASTM C.665, and C.518. How does the builder know it was done right. Visual inspection helps and the contractor can weigh a cubic foot taken right out of the wall.

In my case as an Energy Rater, the HPIP Association has provided me with a Density Checking Kit to also verify compliance with their professional standards.

I leave you with two Infrared Images.  The Right is a wall with Fiberglass Batt Insulation. The Left is a wall with a BIBS installed insulation.  If the Heat Transfer Resisting properties are consistent over the entire wall, the color will be the same or close.  Take a look and decide for yourself which works better.

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International Code Council Adopts Energy Rating Index Compliance Option into the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code

This was released today!  The NAHB noted the approval through their Twitter Stream @NAHB on Tuesday!  More options to meet the Energy Code!  Great way to provide flexibility for all builders. One more reason for adoption of an Energy Code in Wichita/Sedgwick County.

Factsheet on adding the HERS Index compliance path

TEXT OF ANNOUNCEMENT:
On October 7, 2013, the International Code Council (ICC) voted to incorporate an optional Energy Rating Index compliance path into the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) at its meeting in Atlantic City.

The ICC action establishes a new voluntary performance compliance path for the 2015 version of the IECC the “Energy Rating Index”.  The Energy Rating Index is a numeric score where “100” is equivalent to the 2006 IECC and “0” is equivalent to a net-zero energy home.  The current HERS Index Score is compatible to the Energy Rating Index requirements.  This means a builder can use a HERS rating to comply with the 2015 IECC.

The adopted new performance path also requires that a builder must meet the mandatory envelope requirements of the 2009 IECC.

The rating scores that were adopted by the IECC are:

Regions 1 and 2                52
Region 3                           51
Region 4                           54
Region 5                           55
Region 6                           54
Region 7 and 8                  53

The new compliance path was proposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Institute of Market Transformation and the Britt/Makela Group.

RESNET backed an amendment that represented a compromise on higher rating scores that was reached between the Leading Builders of America and the cosponsors.  This amendment, however, was defeated.

RESNET Executed Director Steve Baden lauded the ICC’s action as a “victory for consumers and builders.  Homes complying through this path will be higher performing hence having lower utility bills while at the same time provides more flexibility to builders in meeting the code.  The action is also a big step for RESNET and the HERS industry.  With this new responsibility RESNET has to step up its game and make a concentrated effort to ensure consistent and accurate HERS Index Scores.”

Much appreciation must be expressed to our partners for their effective leadership.  Without the leadership of the by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Leading Builders of America, Institute of Market Transformation and the Brill/Makela Group this would not have been possible.  Support from the National Home Builders Association, North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, DOW, Green Building Coalition and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Program was critical as well as the more than 150 RESNET member companies and organizations added their voices in support of this effort.

Private HERS Rated Homes

During 2013, New Home Builders in the US placed a HERS Rating on over 50% of the new homes built. Builders in most large housing markets have found that a HERS Rated Home sells faster than one that is not Rated.

Is the new home builder the only one that can place a rating on a home?  Actually anyone with an interest in the home can have a HERS Rating completed. The process is the same as when the builder completes the process.

Tonight a new home is on the page listing ‘Actual HERS Rated Homes’ .  This home is one the owner chose to have the HERS Rating completed.  It is being built in Derby, and is listed as Sold Projected. This home was planned to be lower than the standard new home. It is projected with an INDEX of 86.  It will come in lower.  The projected HERS process took into consideration the plan and the levels of insulation and equipment the owner and the builder have decided on.

HERS Rated Homes

HERS Rated Homes

The reports also show how much energy will be used in both heating seasons and cooling seasons by this home.  Several recommendations for cost effective improvements were made.  Several were based on simply lowering the annual utility bills of the home.  When the builder gets pricing for these improvements, the home buyer can make a good decision to proceed with that improvement or not.

Several of the additional insulation recommendations fall into this category. Several of these improvements were based on improving the comfort and Indoor air quality of the home. Again, when the builder has prices in hand the home buyer can make good decisions about these health and safety items. These items include improved equipment, and improved mechanical ventilation over the code required fresh air duct into the furnace.

Yes, there is no code adopted and enforced in the Wichita area requiring insulation in a new home. There is a code item that requires fresh air to be brought in. I have yet to see a new home without provision for a dryer and spot ventilation fans in the bathrooms. The fresh air is needed to compensate for these items.  If it is not provided, these fans will cause fresh air to come in where it can, not where you want.

When think of  a Heating and Air contractor, you have seen them referred to as HVAC Contractors.  The V is for Ventilation.

Remember to ask your Builder for the HERS Rating when you look at a new home. If the builder isn’t Rating his homes, you can obtain a HERS Rating for your favorite model.

Earth Day 2014

Everyone seems to have something good to accomplish on Earth Day this year.  Twitter and Facebook have had regular comments all day. Energy Star had a Tweet Up going online with people from all over the country.  GE donated some LED lamps for a give away.  So to get in the spirit, here is what I  accomplished.

image001Wichita Habitat for Humanity builds Energy Star new homes.  One of the requirements is to limit duct leakage, by strictly following Wichita City Code and all manufacturers instructions for materials.  The professional standard established by the Air Conditioning Contractors nationwide is 6% of system air flow. Energy Star requires 6 cfm (or less) of leakage with a duct pressure test for each 100 square feet of floor area.  This home tested at 50% of the Energy Star Requirement.  The system tested at 5% of system airflow.  Great work!  The mechanical contractor on this house is Cook’s HVAC of Wichita.

BDThis afternoon, I did a Blower Door Test. This test measures the energy loss due to infiltration.  This again, was new construction and the first HERS Rated Home in Wichita for the season. Wichita / Sedgwick County have not adopted the Energy code. If they were enforcing the 2009 version, this home would have exceeded the requirement by almost 50%. It is 20% above the requirement for an Energy Star New home.  Great Work! This shout out goes to a number of contractors.

1 Inch HoleAir Sealing has many pieces.  Framers, electricians, plumbers can all cause many problems for this test.  So when they cooperate to help achieve the end result, it is a good thing. Fibrous insulation (Rockwood, Fiberglas, Cellulose), by itself does not effect infiltration. Air will move through all of them. The insulators must install the insulation correctly. They must caulk many places. I observed much of this during my pre-drywall inspection.

IMG_6793I am sure Wade will pipe in here for a comment and a shout out for these subcontractors.  Wade Wilkinson is principal of GJ Gardner Homes of Wichita.  This home will be their entry in the Wichita Area Builders Association’s Spring Parade of Homes. You can read my Post on the WABA Parade of Homes

 

IMG_6788

 

Verifying good workmanship by builders and contractors is a great part of being a HERS Rater.  What did you do for Earth Day?

Features Most Likely to Show up in Typical Single-family Home in 2014

The National Association of Home Builders has a great research department.  I’ve learned a lot about building technology and marketing from some of their reports. They published another one today.

You can see the original on NAHB. 

Guess what The Energy Guy picked up on?  Only one guess now!

Features 2014

 

Five of the 18 items relate to Energy Efficiency. That is 27%.  One more study that shows the importance of Energy Efficiency to Home Buyers. The article is fairly clear there are many more features surveyed that ranked below this, these are the features a builder needs to provide and point out.

The last one lists ‘Insulation higher than required by code’  –  Since Wichita/Sedgwick County has not adopted an Energy Code this is up for grabs.  Until last year the recommended code for Attic insulation was R-38.  Most builders in the area only install R-30 or even less.  I’ve had several builders tell me they put R-38 in the attic and when I get to the attic, I see the Insulation Company’s Attic Card showing R-30.  One reason that Independent 3rd party Verification is important.  This is an important part of a HERS Index on a new home. The current code recommends R-49 in the attic. As energy prices go up, it makes more sense to have additional insulation.

There are two window items of interest.  First is the desire for Low E  windows.  This is a type of coating on 1 side of one of the panes of a double or triple pane window.  Which side and which pane it is on is very important.  On the wrong pane, the window is designed for Brownsville, TX not Wichita, KS.

Second is the desire for Energy Star certified windows.   Window requirements change with the climate.  If you are in Minnesota, your weather requires a different window specifications than the weather in Kansas. Keep in mind, that Oklahoma is a different climate for certification than Kansas.  I have found a number of new homes in Wichita, that are built with Energy Star windows, if you are in Oklahoma.Climate zones

Finally,  a Lo-E coating on the window helps in the summer time with solar heat gain.  Lo-E is part of the recipe for building a window. Residential windows are certified to Independent Standards and should carry an NFRC Sticker.  Again, checking the NFRC sticker for specifications is part of the Independent Third Party Verification that is part of the HERS Index.

Ask to see the HERS Rating on all new homes you look at.  If there is not a HERS Index, ask the Builder to place a rating on their work.

International Code Council Adopts Energy Rating Index Compliance Option into the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code

This was released today!  The NAHB noted the approval through their Twitter Stream @HAHB on Tuesday!  More options to meet the Energy Code!  Great way to provide flexibility for all builders. One more reason for adoption of the 2015 Energy Code in Wichita/Sedgwick County.Factsheet on adding the HERS Index compliance path

TEXT OF ANNOUNCEMENT:
On October 7, 2013, the International Code Council (ICC) voted to incorporate an optional Energy Rating Index compliance path into the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) at its meeting in Atlantic City.

The ICC action establishes a new voluntary performance compliance path for the 2015 version of the IECC the “Energy Rating Index”.  The Energy Rating Index is a numeric score where “100” is equivalent to the 2006 IECC and “0” is equivalent to a net-zero energy home.  The current HERS Index Score is compatible to the Energy Rating Index requirements.  This means a builder can use a HERS rating to comply with the 2015 IECC.

The adopted new performance path also requires that a builder must meet the mandatory envelope requirements of the 2009 IECC.

The rating scores that were adopted by the IECC are:

Regions 1 and 2               52
Region 3                           51
Region 4                           54
Region 5                           55
Region 6                           54
Region 7 and 8                53

The new compliance path was proposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Institute of Market Transformation and the Britt/Makela Group.

RESNET backed an amendment that represented a compromise on higher rating scores that was reached between the Leading Builders of America and the cosponsors.  This amendment, however, was defeated.

RESNET Executed Director Steve Baden lauded the ICC’s action as a “victory for consumers and builders.  Homes complying through this path will be higher performing hence having lower utility bills while at the same time provides more flexibility to builders in meeting the code.  The action is also a big step for RESNET and the HERS industry.  With this new responsibility RESNET has to step up its game and make a concentrated effort to ensure consistent and accurate HERS Index Scores.”

Much appreciation must be expressed to our partners for their effective leadership.  Without the leadership of the by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Leading Builders of America, Institute of Market Transformation and the Brill/Makela Group this would not have been possible.  Support from the National Home Builders Association, North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, DOW, Green Building Coalition and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Program was critical as well as the more than 150 RESNET member companies and organizations added their voices in support of this effort.

What Tools do you carry in your Tool kit?

I have all sorts of small items in mine; a list would include flashlight,  screwdriver, hammer, tape measures, wrenches, my blower door and infrared imaging camera.  Plus a bunch of flashlights. Yep!  A bunch of flashlights.  I like those everywhere, usually two at a time.flashlights

What kind of tools do you carry?

furnaceAn HVAC Tech might have the first part of my list, and a set of pressure gauges and thermometers instead of my specialized equipment.  Yes, I don’t really need his specialized equipment.

An Install Tech for an Insulation Company would probably have the general stuff and some specialized tools like an insulation blower, staple guns, and an air compressor.

Yes, the work you do requires certain tools. Most tools are fairly general and found in almost everyone’s tool kit, some are specialized to the work we do.

Now that I have pointed out the obvious, everyone maybe wondering why I’m thinking about tools and home performance. So lets connect the dots a little.

First, what happens if you get to the job and you can’t find a screw driver?  It has happened to me more than once!  I just hate that!  How many knife blades have we broken on our pocket knives when we find ourselves in that position?  We still have a job to do and the wrong tool takes longer, sometimes with banged knuckles.

What happens when the products or services we provide to our customers, can perhaps meet their need, like the blade on a pocket knife, but do not meet the need like a screwdriver?  That is the position many in the building performance are find themselves in.  They have a customer that is uncomfortable in their own home or a business with uncomfortable employees and customers.  How does the management design a solution for their techs to implement and thus satisfy their customer, making them comfortable again.  As a business, we each try to provide the solution to the customer from our stock.  That is how we get paid. You don’t pay the mechanic that fixes your car, when the plumbing needs to be fixed.  You pay the plumber, after the drain works again.

So you have a room that is Hot in the Summer and Cold in the winter?  Who do you call and what solution do the problem do you implement?Insulation Blown

If you call a Heating / Cooling contractor, they have equipment on the shelf, probably not insulation. So you will have a proposal to change your equipment for bigger units or perhaps to add a unit. The proposal will certainly involve equipment.  After all, if your mid size car gets you to the store, a larger car will get you there with more comfort.  Would you expect your HVAC contractor to recommend insulation?

What is the actual answer to to your comfort situation? Larger equipment with more punch or some insulation?  What if your solution does not involve either equipment or insulation?

Now we are back to the tools of our Trades!  What tools do you have?  Equipment, Insulation, Air Sealing, Windows?  The solutions you provide must involve the tools of your trade. That is why a savvy homeowner might consult with more than one contractor.  That is a great argument for savvy contractors to partner with contractors and others that work on changing the energy use in your home or business. Why should a good contractor limit themselves to providing only part of the solution.

Air SealingThis is happening in many areas of the country.  Contractors are partnering with others in their area to build home performance teams. There are contractors in Wichita that are moving in this direction.  I think that is great!

Deciding on the measures that will solve your comfort concerns, while bringing down your energy costs, involves a team that includes all of the contractors and a Energy Specialist that does not have a product on the shelf to sell you. The ability to recommend, without having a financial interest in the products, has been valued by many home owners. An Audit by Efficient Energy Savers, provides you with the independence in evaluation, and recommendations needed to get the answer you are actually looking for.

 

Comments on The Previous Post

A few minutes ago, I posted a Press Release on changes to the 2015 Energy Codes.  If you read the list of groups supporting this change, you will find me listed.

Energy Codes have been in existence since 1992. They require levels of insulation, other energy efficient features and address how these items are installed.  There have been adjustments to them over the years. As the cost of electricity and other forms of energy rise, increasing the levels of insulation makes financial sense. As companies develop new products, for example the green sheathing used on many new homes in the Wichita area.

Wichita / Sedgwick County have not chosen to adopt an Energy Code. There is no legal requirement to build a home or building in Wichita and install insulation.

I support this change in the enforcement of codes because it is a ‘Free Market’ approach to the problem.

When people hear a home can be legally built with no insulation, they are very surprised.  Their expectation is that government requires that.  When my daughter was looking at buying a home in 2007-08; I heard one builder’s sales person tell her: “We build Energy Efficient Homes! We used to put R-19 in the attic; now with put R-25! That is Energy Efficient!”  Yet, the recommended code at that time for Wichita called for R-38 in the attic.

A ‘Free Market’ has been defined as the price a willing and informed seller and a willing and informed buyer agree upon!  I think that is important, to have willing and informed sellers and buyers.

If you don’t have an informed buyer; you can’t have a free market.  Consumers want something they value, if they are informed, they can make a decision that meets their needs. It may be a different decision than you would make with the same information.

This proposal would allow a builder to choose to add extra insulation to a home or to install more efficient equipment to his home as they choose to meet or exceed the competition.

This proposal allows a local government to require a level of energy performance from new homes. It allows the builder to decide how he wants to achieve that level. It doesn’t not require the local government to hire any additional inspectors or add training to existing inspectors.

When you look at buying a car, you can look at the Mileage Sticker on the window.  You may or may not use that in your final decision.  With this in the code, you can look at the sticker on the electrical box.  Then you can choose to use it or not use it in your decision.

A few years from now, when a new home is resold, the sticker will be there. Consumers can look at it and make informed decisions again.

Disclosure:  Yes,  part of our business is to Rate Homes for Energy Efficiency! This proposal if adopted by local governments could increase business.  It would also spur competition. It would not stop a home builder from training one of his employees to Rate his homes.  It would not stop an independent group, for example the Builders Association, from training someone and offering Ratings services to their members. It would not stop Energy Related Subcontractors from training an employee and offering Ratings to their customers.

The Press Release with links is found HERE